Tuesday, March 15th 2016

On In-Game Advertising, or the Invasion of Your $60 Space

This piece is intended to present a short thought-experiment in regards to the ever-increasing prevalence of ads in our lives. With their ubiquitous presence and the development of ever more complex ways of ad targeting and display technologies, ads have become a part of our lives. From million dollar spots in the Super Bowl towards content-locks happening unless we allow ads to be forced upon us, ads will eventually become more of an issue than they already are.

This issue in itself isn't much attractive at the outset - ads are naturally (and correctly) viewed as intrusions in our choice of content. I know how much I loathe using any ad-imbibed products. But the key point here isn't the fact that ads exist - they will always do so. It's the way they are delivered.
There are some situations where ads make sense, and are even a vital component of a product's marketing and monetization. Free-to play smartphone games and services such as Spotify or YouTube have to find ways of delivering content free of charge while achieving business sustainability. That "there are no free meals" is true for almost every aspect of our lives; but such a mantra is the lifeblood of companies. However, in some cases, ads are jarring, obtrusive, and can ruin an experience. Enter ads in computer games.
The steady increase of Triple-A games' development costs is a much touted fact. Some have even called for an increase in overall retail pricing of AAA games - increasing its price from the usual $60 so as to allow developers to better recoup their investment. Others, however, speak of further exploration on the introduction of ads in games. Some look at loading screens and see a idle opportunity for an ad. Others look at billboards, t-shirts, and in-game locations as being the best possible places for ad placement. Inserting ad revenue into a AAA game would work towards giving developers a new revenue stream; and the fact that many games now feature always-online connections would give developers and advertisers the possibility of curating their content, employing analytics regarding attention-span capture, angle of viewing, time-on-camera, and many other metrics.
However, are ads in games something we can live with - or even want? My opinion is causality's favorite: it depends.

I do expect future games to incorporate in-game real-life ads at some point in time. I think it's not a matter of "if", but a matter of "when". But is there a reason why Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's ads need to be handcrafted at all, when the creators can just run some real ones and make some money in the process? Naturally, this would mean the ads would have to be carefully selected so as to not break gameplay immersion. They have to make sense in the game world, feel organic. Thus, an advertisement for a 3D printer, or the latest sci-fi movie, might make sense in Mankind Divided's world. And in a game grounded at least partially in our world, in our time frame, it might even make sense to run some Chanel Nº 5 ads. Enter Watch Dogs 2, with its San Francisco depiction. Would it really be so strange, so jarring, if some of the restaurants mirrored some of its life-like counterparts? Throw in a McDonald's, a Subway, advertisements for Mercedes and Chevrolet, and include car models of them among the dull, generic, no-brand ones that the game has, and wouldn't the game world become more grounded in reality? "Nah, I don't want this piece of junk. Why would I? I'm sure there is a sweet Camaro somewhere around here."
What we need, if there is anything in advertisement that we do, is smart ads. Ads that have had some thought put into them towards integration with the game world. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a few days from dropping officially. Imagine that Bioware, or EA, struck a deal with a company, such as Shell, for ads inside their space-opera game (dear god, no!) Would Andromeda colonists wearing Shell-branded t-shirts make sense? Or having a Shell sticker on the side of Tempest? I'd say that no, they wouldn't, and that would probably elicit some cries of agony and anger from my part. Now imagine that there is a Codex entry on Shell having been one of the old-Earth fossil fuel companies to heavily invest in new technologies. That entry expands, telling of how some of those technologies were integrated into the Tempest. And that's the reason why you see an actual Shell logo on some parts of the Tempest engine room (sadly, Tali won't be there). Would that be that jarring? And entertain the idea that Blue Origin actually wins the space race against SpaceX. Wouldn't the appearance of some Amazon-branded boxes in the upcoming Prey be somewhat explainable through the addition of a newspaper clip somewhere in the game world, detailing how Blue Origin spawned TranStar? And how Amazon went on to become the single most powerful corporation in the setting?

Now imagine a McDonald's ad in the loading screen of Dishonored 2, or a Pizza Hut video running in the loading screen for Andromeda's Habitat 5… Yeah.
If the implementation wasn't obtrusive, immersion-breaking, made sense (appearing in TV screens and posters around the game world), and if I saw a benefit from seeing these ads peppered throughout my game (like a $30 price-tag on a $60 AAA game, for instance), I don't think I'd mind. However, there are two factors which I think would have to be taken into consideration in any AAA game looking to incorporate ads into its world: sensible, tailored, organic ad placement and development that is built within the game world; and that gamers see a practical benefit from the ads' inclusion. You want to put ads into my game? Fine. I don't want them to break or jar my experience, I want them to enrich the game world, and I want to see a discount on its off-the shelf price. I don't require much, now do I?

Do you agree? Where do you stand in the inclusion of ads in your games?Note to our forum users: this piece is marked as an Editorial
Add your own comment

28 Comments on On In-Game Advertising, or the Invasion of Your $60 Space

#1
Toothless
If Ubi got Starbucks ads in AC1, I'd just brew up some homemade coffee instead. The only effect is making me want coffee.
Posted on Reply
#2
xkm1948
Honestly I have never noticed any ads in games. Even if I do I would think "Cool that's something from real life"

I only play a selected few games. Just like a selected few websites I frequent I don't mind the ads as long as the real stuff from the site/game is good(Yep, TPU is probably one of the few sites that I disable adblock)

Toothless said:
If Ubi got Starbucks ads in AC1, I'd just brew up some homemade coffee instead. The only effect is making me want coffee.
Haven't had any starbucks product since their eager attempt to politicize their own brand earlier this year.
Posted on Reply
#3
Toothless
xkm1948 said:
Honestly I have never noticed any ads in games. Even if I do I would think "Cool that's something from real life"

I only play a selected few games. Just like a selected few websites I frequent I don't mind the ads as long as the real stuff from the site/game is good(Yep, TPU is probably one of the few sites that I disable adblock)



Haven't had any starbucks product since their eager attempt to politicize their own brand earlier this year.
I'll grab one at work since sometimes I really need the kick.
Posted on Reply
#4
EntropyZ
How about a big NO. When the game has immersion breaking moments, that's when I flip out. It would be worse than FPS stutter, at least for me.

For games that have realism as core concepts, I wouldn't mind much. Like it's been said, some games already have in-game ads.
Posted on Reply
#5
Delta6326
When it's subtle like on a billboard or store front, it doesn't bother me. If they go crazy with ads though no buy here.

I'm used to it in my racing games, but it just makes sense in those, as tracks have ads going around them anyway and lots of the time it's the same ad.
Posted on Reply
#6
BiggieShady
Product placement, like in the movies, is already done in games that have contemporary setting. Although already cringe worthy if not executed properly, anything more than that would be disastrous (just like in the movies).
Posted on Reply
#7
timta2
xkm1948 said:


Haven't had any starbucks product since their eager attempt to politicize their own brand earlier this year.
Didn't the Trump supporters start that nonsense?
Posted on Reply
#8
Steevo
I would not pay full retail for ads in my games. No questions asked.

Would I find it acceptable to pay for a game at a discounted rate if there were ads? Maybe with the following provisions.

During loading screens, maybe, and as long as it didn't slow anything.

During gameplay sure, on billboards and other places we expect to see ads, and as long as they fit the game.
Posted on Reply
#9
TheMailMan78
Big Member
The first time a game what setup for current ads in a game was Battlefield 2142 believe it or not. Basically there were billboards, posters and trucks that would have ads on them. Nothing new right? Wrong (Trump voice). See the thing was they were constant and designed to change with your browsing habits. Much like cookies in your browser. There was a huge "whodunit" back then so they stripped support. Mark my words its coming back and yall aint even gonna know it.

Adblocker for EA anyone?
Posted on Reply
#10
semantics
I actually didn't mind the ads in 2142 just because the stages lacked personality the ads actually made it look like someone actually lived there instead of just blue/white/orange landscapes.
Posted on Reply
#11
ManofGod
timta2 said:
Didn't the Trump supporters start that nonsense?
You saw that on a in game billboard, right?
Posted on Reply
#12
RejZoR
No. Just no. EA used in-game bill boards with real commercials in one NFS game. It never got a grip among people. Besides, if it doesn't make my game cheaper, then kindly fuck off with ads. Besides, I absolutely hate ads that don't connect with the game content. It's why parody ads in games have far better effect. They are funny and memorable. Seeing Starbucks commercial in Assassins Creed would just be awkward no matter where you show it.
Posted on Reply
#13
dorsetknob
"YOUR RMA REQUEST IS CON-REFUSED"
Free to download and free to play well that's reluctantly acceptable

you spend $£80 on a AAA rated game then its not acceptable
Spoof ad's in games like GTA ( Included in Game Data acceptable )
Especially if you can mod your own content ad :)

Rolling internet updated Ad's BIG NO NO (add own appropriate Expletive here ).
AD Company's / Agency's you want to upload ads to my paid content WUCK OFF

Raevenlord said:
and the fact that many games now feature always-online connections would give developers and advertisers the possibility of curating their content, employing analytics regarding attention-span capture, angle of viewing, time-on-camera, and many other metrics.
More Snooping and unacceptable in my paid for game

and then there is that little thing called misuse of computers Act in UK and similer legisation in other countries
You the Ad agency are risking prosecution if you try infiltrate your shit onto my Pc against my wishes/consent.
Stick it in your games T&C Game providers
and i refuse you permission and therefor you will have to refund me
lost Sale i can live without it
can you live with out many lost sales globally we will see
Posted on Reply
#15
dorsetknob
"YOUR RMA REQUEST IS CON-REFUSED"
In game Adverts and the scientific Research from the 80's
<div class="youtube-embed" data-id="GT2Z1GE0tRg"><img src="https://i.ytimg.com/vi/GT2Z1GE0tRg/hqdefault.jpg" /><div class="youtube-play"></div><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT2Z1GE0tRg" target="_blank" class="youtube-title"></a></div>
Posted on Reply
#16
Aenra
I can't even watch T.V. anymore, so adds are a definite issue for me. Even if i put aside all the ethical/social issues (and i cannot), i simply could not put aside their ruining it for me.
Escapism. It's why we read (well some of us anyway, ask my brother what a book is, lol), it's why we play. To escape; not to be reminded.

Admittedly, this is all on a theoretical level for me, have never come across this. The joys of playing old school RPGs ^^
Posted on Reply
#17
dwade
But I want in-game ads in GTA! Like an actual in-game McDonalds restaurant, Target store, Best Buy, Starbucks, etc... Hell, make the web browser use Google Chrome.
Posted on Reply
#18
newtekie1
Semi-Retired Folder
I'm fine with in game ads as long as they don't stick out. I'd even go so far as saying I don't even expect a discount on the game.

I mean, really, games haven't really increased in price. I remember buying AAA games back in the 90s for $50, sometimes even $55. Now AAA games usually come out at $60 for the base game(yes there are more expensive editions, but there were back 20 years ago too).

If they want to throw in some billboards or posters where it makes sense, I say do it. Just make it fit in with the game.
Posted on Reply
#19
dorsetknob
"YOUR RMA REQUEST IS CON-REFUSED"
dwade said:
But I want in-game ads in GTA! Like an actual in-game McDonalds restaurant, Target store, Best Buy, Starbucks, etc... Hell, make the web browser use Google Chrome.
:) sick Puppy
next you be wanting in game TV's broadcasting of Tromp campaigning Trailers saying re elect me for 2020 I'll make San Andrea's Mexican free and great again (just in case you missed that's sarcasm ) :)
Posted on Reply
#20
Prima.Vera
Actually this should be the way to go for AAA games. To be very honest, I prefer read billboard adds in the games, but to keep the prices for them lower.
But greed is even bigger imo....
Posted on Reply
#21
ogharaei
TPU Proofreader
I think Ravenlord has it right when he writes that ads need to "have had some thought put into them towards integration with the game world." You can include advertisement, but can't just brute force it into a game. There's even the potential to create immersion by utilizing ads or, to take it even deeper, branding. I really love how, say, Fallout, as an example, includes its own in-world products with familiaresque branding, and that to a point were game developers weave entire content-driven stories around these mega corporations and their brands to breathe some life into the Fallout world we spend (untold) hours with. Ads and branding are a real force when it comes to how we perceive our world, and if used properly in games, contextually, can act as another powerful, relatable pillar of immersion, especially in role-playing games.

Whether real-life brands like Shell or Starbucks can be integrated properly is up for debate, I doubt it, but game developers should think about how in-game specific ads can be a positive source of immersion since we are also constantly surrounded by such in our day-to-day lives. Take a White Wolf-based game like Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines; it's not a new concept, but it is one only a few game developers as of late have treated well contextually when it comes to the story they want to tell.
Posted on Reply
#22
Caring1
It ads a sense of realism to the games, something people can relate to.
Posted on Reply
#23
kn00tcn
Aenra said:
I can't even watch T.V. anymore, so adds are a definite issue for me. Even if i put aside all the ethical/social issues (and i cannot), i simply could not put aside their ruining it for me.
Escapism. It's why we read (well some of us anyway, ask my brother what a book is, lol), it's why we play. To escape; not to be reminded.

Admittedly, this is all on a theoretical level for me, have never come across this. The joys of playing old school RPGs ^^
i am disappointed that everyone is quick to permanently dismiss tv ads, yes there are bad ones, but some are ok, some are great, some are entertaining, some arent for a product (like drunk driving or some new service you can get from the gov)

a good ad is hard work, contains cinematography, music, audio, plot, pretty much everything that a tv show or movie or game will require, with the excitement & challenge of 15 or 30 sec limits

people eagerly watch movie trailers or game trailers or E3, yet they dont give that respect to regular ads? some of those regular ads are the very same games & movies

then we get to pseudo ads like 10sec bumps, or the channel's logo, is it merely identity or is it marketing? when done right it becomes incredible (adult swim, toonami)

but beyond the video format, static ads are graphic design, similar principles apply

this sounds schizo but i like good ads, hate bad ads, like good graphic design, hate magazines, like entertainment & comedy, hate when it's forced or lame

edit: why must it be about escapism? why to 'kill' time, you shouldnt kill time, you should enjoy it, enjoy the art work that someone created, be inspired to make your own, to look for more, no matter what format it is, always critique it, analyse it, find something nice you can say about it even if most of it is crap (those terrible infomercials have given us lots of laughs with the recent internet gif collections for example)

of course, i'm not saying accept douche tactics that some channels or banners do
Posted on Reply
#24
Aenra
kn00tcn said:
i am disappointed that everyone is quick to permanently dismiss tv ads
...
a good ad is hard work
O.K. :)
Posted on Reply
#25
efikkan
I can accept advertisements in "free" products, but when I pay for a product, I expect to get the full product without advertisements and/or a DLC moneymaking scheme.

The real problem is the big game studios are spending way too much on developing game titles, and it's not like the ever-increasing budgets have yielded better games. This actually comes down to efficient resource management. These game projects usually employs way too many "creative people" and managers, resulting in conflicting visions and lots of time wasted. Creative people are usually very opinionated as well, so larger teams of them usually grow less efficient. It's not like a game really needs 50 or so artists, story writers, etc. etc. Surprisingly enough, most of these giant projects don't even spent a lot of resources on coding a fine tuned game engine, most of them use off-the-shelf game engines with light scripting, which usually don't result in the best gaming experience anyway.

One thing that is certainly much more annoying than a few advertisements or product placement is the ever growing DLC industry. As mentioned, when I pay >$40 for a title, I expect this to be the full product. Unfortunately, quite often it's just a minor part of the whole game. Quite often this actually stops me from buying a products, and I know many others do so too. When I grew up there were shareware vendors like Apogee, which gave customers 1/3 of the game for free, and unlocked the full game for a reasonable price. Today however, you pay >$40 for the "demo", and have to pay up to several times more to get the "full" game.

I know many developers/publishers think they can earn another 5% or so by adding loads of DLC to a game, but the truth is that this actually drives customers away, resulting in a net loss for the publisher.

I think the only way to fix the industry is competition; small independent developers should strive quality games and give them a run for their money. At this point, most of the AAA games are boring anyway, mostly rehashing of the same old product; Far Cry, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, Halo, heck even Nintendo just re-releases the "same" 5 games.
Posted on Reply
Add your own comment